If a comment falls in the forest…

Posted on Sunday, April 19th, 2009 at 5:53 pm by Nick in research | No Comments

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has an apology for his readers: he’s a left-wing, Obama-hating, bitter, Republican-hack, lame, Democratic water carrier. At least, that’s what the comments on his columns say. According to his column, this is the first time he’s read the comments on his pieces that appear on the web, and hopefully for him, the last. Which begs the question: who are comments for? From reading a few of the ones he chose to highlight, they seem directed at him, but I’m guessing many people in his position don’t ever read their comments, or at least don’t get a lot of useful feedback from that forum.

But maybe that’s not what comments are for. Whole websites, indeed, whole subcultures (see 4chan) have sprung up that are either free-for-all dueling grounds for people who disagree or places to write lengthy running jokes as a group activity. Both of these tire me out very quickly (Reddit, for example, used to have more thoughtful comments, but they’ve devolved as the site got more popular) but some obviously enjoy the fight or the funny, and if the people writing the original posts that set off this kind of chaotic banter don’t read them anyway, what’s the harm?

Or, does this phenomenon become the practice grounds for real-life interactions? Are people who yell and scream on websites more likely to yell and scream at the people they encounter face-to-face?